Featured Short Stories and Flash Fiction Pieces by T.L. Gray
The Last Stop
Stepping off the Greyhound bus at Rose’s in downtown Metropolitan Roopville, because the small Georgia town had no real bus depot, felt like I stepped into a time warp. “Hell – this isn’t even Kansas, Toto,” I mumbled under my breath, as I slid on my designer sunglasses, shielding the glare of the bright sunlight. I shook my head as I eyed the little country store, which seemed to house everything you can think of from gardening tools, antiques, farming aides, food, kid’s toys, and odd books. The bus pulls away behind me, leaving me the only passenger to exit and standing alone in the deserted gravel parking lot.
Oh, what the hell were you thinking, Jackson, sending me to the fucking Twilight Zone? I picked up my suitcase the bus driver had sat beside me and headed for Rose’s. As I marched across the lot, trying not to twist my ankles from my high heels fighting against loose gravel, I ran the stats through my mind, reminding me of my purpose in Hicksville. Roopville, Georgia; population 177; made up of 75 households and 57 families. I look around at the empty highway. The only sounds I hear are the buzzing of afternoon crickets and the autumn wind rustling the large oak leaves. I continue my trek to the storefront, ticking off my list of facts. Best known for being the birthplace of Sportscaster Keith Jackson – the Voice of College Football – and where the popular signs “Baby on Board” originated. Recent reports of paranormal disturbances are higher per capita than any other city in the continental U.S. I guffawed. “No shit, Sherlock. With only 177 people, it would only take one paranormal disturbance to put you at the top of the list. What am I doing here?”
I reached the bottom step of Rose’s when a plump woman, wearing a flowered dress and floppy hat, stepped out of the store and onto the porch, smiling down at me with such a wide smile, I wondered how it fit on her round, jovial face. “Why, you must be Miss Ellie Blythe. Samuel told me you’d be comin’ today, and look it …here you are.” She bounded down the steps with a happy bounce and wrapped me into a big bear hug, squeezing me so tight I could hardly breathe. I didn’t like hugging. I didn’t like people invading my personal space. I’m more of a handshake kind of girl, and this woman’s arms felt like a huge invasion of my privacy, but she didn’t seem to have any problems in showing her ample affection, rubbing her gigantic boobs all over me. “My name is Rose.” She released me and then snatched my suitcase out of my hand. “Here I’ll just throw this in the back of Samuel’s pick-up and he’ll be right along to take you to the house.” Holy fuck …what the hell was that? I heard people in the country were overly affectionate, but that was damned near rape.
I stood at the bottom of the steps stunned and quite afraid to follow the woman to a blue, partially rusted 1963 Ford pickup. My feet remained locked at the bottom step.
The next few hours passed quickly. The house turned out to be an old Plantation home, complete with tall white columns, a wrap-around porch, and a driveway lined with Weeping Willows. I felt like I stepped right into a Nora Roberts novel. The family, who lived there, the Hobbs, treated me with an abundance of Southern hospitality, and fed me with a deep appreciation for fried foods. But, I have to admit, that fried chicken practically melted in my mouth, right along with the crispy fried potatoes, fried okra and the deep-fried green beans. My arteries didn’t appreciate the menu – neither did my hips – but my lips smacked with satisfaction.
Full, satiated and a bit sleepy I decided to relax out front, swinging back and forth in the cushioned porch swing, sipping on a Tequila Sunrise. Vacant the sounds of honking horns, sirens and engine roars, I watched fireflies, called lightening bugs in Roopville, zip haphazardly through the night. Just as my eyelids drooped, a blood curdling scream rent the air. I jolted from the porch swing, dropped my drink and landed on my ass on the gray-painted floor. The echoes of the scream disappeared into the darkened woods, causing the hair on the back of neck, and along my arm, to prickle.
I pulled myself from the floor and walked out into the yard, to move beyond the light of the porch so I can get a better view of the woods. I scanned the darkened outline, seeing nothing but black towers, peaks and dips highlighted in a silver sheen from the nearly full moon, but nothing moved along the tree line. I turned to step back onto the porch, when I caught a shimmer of light, or at least that’s what I thought. I whipped my head back, and there, about four rows deep, I saw a pale light, then I heard another scream.
Taking off running, having changed upon arrival at the house into a pair of a blue jeans and sneakers, I headed toward the light, believing someone in mortal danger. The scream still echoed in my mind, and caused my stomach to knot in fear. I reached the edge of the woods, but didn’t ease up on my run and charged into the thick woods. Tree branches snapped at me, whipping across my skin, but I didn’t stop. My gaze remained locked on the pale light, which seemed to move as fast as I ran, keeping equal distance.
I soon stumbled into clearing, which turned out to be a graveyard situated behind a small country church. I heard a giggle, and then moan, followed by the sound of skin slapping against skin. It didn’t take long for me to make out the dark shadows going at it like bunny rabbits on top of one of the graves. It was too dark to tell the ages of the lovebirds, but I tried to ignore the coupling couple to search for the pale light. I caught a vaporous wisp as it entered into a mausoleum. I ran toward the opening, shouting, “Carry on,” as I passed the passionate couple. I heard a scream and a gasp of surprise behind me as I entered into the crypt.
Inside, the crypt I slid to a halt on my butt. I tried as hard as I could to turn to get up, turn around and run back out, but I’m frozen. Above me, toward the upper plots, hovered the ghostly apparition of a young, teenage girl. She wore what looked like modern jeans and hoodie, only they appeared as a pale vapor, having no color.
“Help me!” the ghostly girl whispered.
The chilly tone of her voice made me shiver. “Help you, how?”
Her ghostly body shimmered, and flashed, fading in and out of focus. “You must stop them before the full moon tomorrow night.”
“Stop who?” I tried to crawl backwards, hoping to inch my way out of the crypt. All the years I chased the paranormal, I’d never actually seen a real ghost. But my body refused to do anything but shake with fear. “Did somebody kill you?”
The ghost girl cocked her vapid head to the side, as if listening to something and then her pale form floated toward me, stopping to hover just a few inches away. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run. But, I sat there petrified. “They all are guilty; everyone.”
“Who?” Ghost girl turned her head as if startled and then vanished, plunging the crypt into complete darkness. It took a few seconds before I could make out the faint opening.
I staggered, shaken and scared, into the moonlit graveyard. Without stopping and wanting to get back to the safety of the light of the house, I ran past the still copulating couple. Once again they didn’t look up, but I must have become turned around in the woods, because instead of coming out at the house, as I expected, I ran into an open field, where four teenaged boys were in the process of tipping over a sleeping cow.
“How do I get to Rose and Samuel Johnson’s?” I called out as I approached the boys.
One of the let out a scream so high-pitched I could have been wrong about their sex. The other three jumped, and the cow woke up braying like a mule. “Sweet, baby Jesus! Where the hell did you come from?” The boy, with a John Deer Tractor cap pointed toward the right end of the field. “Johnson’s live that way.”
I ran all the way, up onto the porch, into the big, warm house and straight up to my room. I closed the door behind me, slipped under the covers fully dressed and drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, I went back to crypt, penciled down the name where the ghost had huddled and then headed to town. When I showed up at downtown Metropolitan Roopville, the main street was closed off, a banner hung across the street that read: Roopville Harvest Festival. It looked like all 177 citizens bustled about in overalls and Sunday dresses. Rose’s store, the two pump gas station next door, the tiny wooden civic center, auction barn and the First Baptist Church of Roopville sat decorated with orange and black streamers, bales of hay, scare crows and pumpkins. A row of tented booths lined between featuring odd things like plants, baked goods, homemade crafts, and pottery. It looked like something right out of a Halloween catalog. Inside the auction barn, animals bleated, and crowds cheered over horses running around striped barrels and piglets squealed as they were being chased by youngsters.
Behind Rose’s store, among the many rows of corn, I saw a cut path through the field and cardboard box sign stating: Samuel Johnson’s Corn Maze – Enter if dare. Some go in, but not all come out.
“As sure as God made little green apples, I will slap you smart if you don’t get off that tractor right this minute, Johnny James Johnson!” A woman, in a flowery dress yelled as she ran across the parking lot, pointing one of her chubby fingers as a young boy climbing all over one of the John Deer Tractors.
I wandered around the festival for what seemed like hours as if in a daze. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening, what this place had to do with the apparition I had seen the night before and what it had meant by its warning. I walked in a daze down the center of blocked road until I came upon the sign that announced, “Now leaving Roopville”. It felt ominous. It brought back the memory of being on the bus and looking out the window seeing the opposite side, which stated, “Now Entering Roopville”, only for a brief moment I had thought it had read, “Now Entering Hell”. I looked behind me at the bustling of Roopville citizens. While this seems like a beautiful, peace and majestic place, to me …a girl from the city, would consider this hell.
My chest suddenly tightened and a wave of fear washed over me as I thought once more about the apparition in the crypt. With shaking hands I pulled out the scrap piece of paper where I had rubbed the name from the vault with a pencil. I opened the folded paper and then fell to my knees. Now, I understood why her clothes seemed modern and familiar. On the paper, among the gray scratches of lead was the name Ellie Blythe. I died and was sent to rural hell.
Swirling dreams and vain imaginations fill my mind, pierce my heart and tease my senses. When I think I have enough inspiration to dip my pen into the ethereal ink, my Muse assaults me. I call it an assault, because it comes violently, suddenly and overwhelms my sanity. My pen forgotten, my ink spilled. I’m lost …yet I’m found.
Like warm hands on a cold night, my Muse reaches out and runs his fingers softly over my shoulder and gently down my arm, leaving a line of prickled goose bumps, and sending a shivering jolt through my center; my being. No matter my intent, my will, my choice, my body betrays me and submits to the call of my Master.
Like a ray of sunshine after a torrential rain, my Muse kisses my brow, the tip of my nose and then brushes my lips with his own, stirring my desires and inflaming my passions. What once made rational sense, now seemed as compost; and the words of my Muse like a new dawn, a new day.
Like the birth of a brand new babe, after hours of hard labor, my Muse makes love to me, impregnates me and I conceive, giving new life to his gift. Plain black font transforms into golden swirls of tantalizing beauty; the offspring of my Lover.
The dream clears and I pick up my pen, dipping into the remnants of spilled ink, place the sharpened tip to parchment and release the gift of my Muse, my Master, and my Lover. I smile, for all is right in the world, and vain imaginations are now full of divine revelation. I write.
I stand behind him, my love, and watch as his fingers fly over the keyboard and his words race in beautiful black font across the screen. My chin rests on his shoulder, my arms wrapped around him, gently running my hands through his chest hair. Mesmerized by the prose popping up on the screen, I smile in warm fascination and awe. I love watching him seduce the world with his words.
Amor animi arbitrio sumitur, non ponitur.
With a whisper I ask, “What does it mean, my Love?”
The tapping ceases and he turns his head toward me. He drapes his arm over my shoulder, turns his chair and draws me into his lap. Looking into my eyes, he runs his fingers along my hair line and answers, “We choose to love; we do not choose to cease loving.”
My heart overflows with warmth. I reach up and touch his brows, then snake my hands around to the back of his neck, pulling his head down as I reach up and brush my lips across his warm, soft ones. He gives in to me. I feel the want, the desire, and the need with every movement of his lips and flick of his tongue. He pours as much into the kiss as he does into his words; honestly.
We break away and I whisper my own Latin phrase, “Si vis amari, ama.”
“If you wish to be loved, love,” he answers in translation. His eyes widen in excitement. He sits forward and pushes me from his lap, but pulls my hand onto his chest, next to his heart, the place he desires me to hold. “That’s perfect, my love, just what the story needs.”
I once again take my position behind him, resting my chin on his shoulder and watch his beauty, his gift, his brilliance appear one letter at a time across the screen. I must share him with the world, as he shares his world with me. It’s the best collaboration.